WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former Army sergeant who withstood Afghan insurgent fire to save his fellow warriors' lives will be awarded the Medal of Honor on Tuesday by President Obama at the White House.
In November 2007, Kyle White was a 20-year-old sergeant and platoon radio telephone operator. He and a group of American troops and Afghan soldiers had just left a meeting with elders in a remote mountainous area of Afghanistan and were walking along a trail when they were fired on.
"You heard a single one shot, and two shots, and then the whole valley erupted," White told the military publication Stars and Stripes. "And then (rocket-propelled grenades) and fully automatic fire came in from, it seemed, like every direction. ... They had us outnumbered, that's for sure. ..."
Taking so much fire, members of his patrol were separated as they tried to take cover. White fired his first magazine and began to load another one. Then an RPG knocked him unconscious.
When White came to, an enemy round hit a rock just inches from his head. The shrapnel cut his face.
Dazed, he struggled to take in what was happening. He and four others were separated from the other soldiers, who jumped from a cliff. White applied first aid to a wounded soldier, and they both moved to the only cover available: a single tree. That soldier would survive.
It was at that point in the attack that White realized his radio wasn't working.
He looked out and saw a member of his patrol about 30 feet away whose wounds were so bad, the man could not move. White ran toward him, braving enemy fire, he told Stars and Stripes.
White was able to drag the wounded service member back to the tree.
But the man's injuries were too severe, and he died.
Risking death, again and again
White continued to risk himself to help his fellow warriors, again running from his cover into enemy fire to reach the platoon leader. White told Stars and Stripes that he could see the leader's helmet and assault pack, but he couldn't tell if the leader was alive. White had to see, he said.
He crawled toward the man. It was too late. He was dead.
In that moment, White told Stars and Stripes, "I told myself that I was going to die. ..."
" ... It was, you know, if I am going to die I'm going to help my battle buddies until it happens," he said. "You also know that if the roles were reversed and it was you that was sitting out there, you know your battle buddy would come and get you."
White continued to focus under impossible strain. The service member who White had earlier dragged to the tree was hit again, this time in the leg, so the young soldier wrapped his belt around the service member's leg, creating a tourniquet.
Then White found a working radio and called for artillery and helicopter gunships to help.
Finally, maybe, there could be hope. But then something awful happened. A friendly mortar round landed near White.
"I remember just red hot chunks of metal like the size of my palm just flinging by your head," he recalled to Stars and Stripes.
Suffering a concussion, White managed to hang on, waiting for the medevac. When help arrived, he told his rescuers to put the other wounded aboard first.
White spoke with NPR this week, seven years after that battle on the mountain.
"It seemed like we were on that hillside forever," he said.
A soldier, changed
Six American service members died in the attack.
"It's something you still think about every day," White told NPR. "I still have these images from that day burned into my head. But it's something, as time goes on, it gets easier."
But something inside him changed, he said.
"Even to this day, you know, I can't say if it was something good or bad. ..." he told NPR. "And that was pretty much the reason why I decided to leave the Army."
When it came time for White to re-enlist, he thought hard about whether doing that felt right. He decided against it because he doubted that he could devote his complete heart and mind to it, he told NPR. It was unacceptable to him to continue in the service and then, perhaps, be deployed to Afghanistan. Service members deserve a leader who is all in, he explained.
When Obama called him on February 10 to deliver the news that White was receiving the Medal of Honor, the two joked about how different the veteran's life is now. When Obama asked if working as an investment analyst is less exciting than the Army, White laughed and said it was.
White was told not to tell people about the award, he told Stars and Stripes. But he said he couldn't resist telling his mom and dad.
Today at the White House, White will be joined by his family as well as some whom he served alongside.
He will be the seventh living recipient to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq.
CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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